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Politics

Everyone's Lying to You About Benghazi

Choice between two evils: GOP conspiracy theories or White House spin?

(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Here's your comprehensive guide to the politics of "Benghazi," the September 2012 terrorist attack in Libya that claimed four American lives.

White House secrecy, deception, and a politics-first obsession shielded President Obama from fallout during the 2012 reelection campaign. The tactics eventually backfired to keep the scandal alive.

A State Department email, belatedly made public last week under court order, proves beyond reasonable doubt that the White House communications team was more interested in covering Obama's butt than sharing accurate information with the public. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote that one "goal" for U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice's television interviews shortly after the attack was to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy." Another stated "goal" was to "reinforce the President and Administration's strength." The protests were not rooted in an Internet video, a fact the White House acknowledged only belatedly, reluctantly, and under fire.

 

The White House's explanation for withholding the email from Congress was laughable. Press secretary Jay Carney claimed that an email released under court order for Benghazi-related documents was not about Benghazi. You don't need to be a right-wing conspiracy nut to recognize that White House obfuscation gave the scandal its legs. "It is also impolite—but necessary—to point out that Carney and his colleagues' opacity made their Benghazi problem worse," wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.

Politics aside, an independent panel determined in 2012 that systematic management and leadership failures at the State Department led to "grossly" inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi. Despite those failures, the Accountability Review Board concluded that no individual official ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action.

Republican leaders concocted bogus conspiracy theories that inflamed anti-Obama biases of conservative voters. Disgracefully, the GOP used the memory of four dead Americans to raise money.

There are too many phony conspiracy theories to refute here, but the most infamous came from the chief GOP investigator, Rep. Darrell Issa of California. "I have my suspicion, which is Secretary [Hillary] Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down," said the modern-day McCarthy. That lie has taken root in GOP circles despite reports like this from the Armed Services Committee: "There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi." Issa also claimed that Clinton signed a State Department memo denying security to Benghazi, a blatant falsehood. 

Issa is a joke. His conduct has undermined the credibility of the Republican Party, just as the White House communications team has undercut trust in the presidency. After a spate of partisan investigations in Congress, it's hard to fathom how the new "select committee" could 1) unearth evidence of wrongdoing beyond the Accountability Review Board's harsh findings, and 2) claim evidence of wrongdoing that a fair-minded voter would believe.

The shame is that there are lessons to learn from the leadership failures in the Clinton State Department and the Obama White House. Benghazi is a reminder, too, of the dangers of invading a nation like Libya with a light footprint and walking away. But the two major parties don't care about such things. Benghazi is just the latest proof that our leaders are obsessed with winning news cycles and elections—and if victory requires fudging a few facts or invoking the memories of dead Americans to raise blood money, then, well, so be it.

Terrorists alone are to blame for the Benghazi attack. But you might ask, which party handled the aftermath worse? Who lied more? Sorry, but that's a choice between two evils I won't make.

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